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  2. How Individualized Education Program (IEP) Transition Planning Makes a Difference for Youth with Disabilities

How Individualized Education Program (IEP) Transition Planning Makes a Difference for Youth with Disabilities

Disabled Girl With Her Teacher


Youth who receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004), and especially young adults of transition age, should be involved in planning for life after high school as early as possible and no later than age 16. Young adults of transition age who have disabilities should not only be invited to attend their Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings but be supported as key decision-makers in order to ensure their plans for high school and life after high school are based on their interests and strengths.

IDEA 2004 includes requirements for special education and related services for children and youth. The federal language uses the term child to mean individuals ages 3 to 21 and provides the following clarifying definition of whom the law applies:

Child with a disability means a child evaluated in accordance with Sec. 300.304 through 300.311 as having mental retardation, a hearing impairment (including deafness), a speech or language impairment, a visual impairment (including blindness), a serious emotional disturbance (referred to in this part as "emotional disturbance"), an orthopedic impairment, autism, traumatic brain injury, other health impairment, a specific learning disability, deaf-blindness, or multiple disabilities, and who, by reason thereof, needs special education and related services.1

Transition age youth with disabilities receive a continuum of supports and services designed to address their specific needs, interests, strengths, and educational goals. Teachers, service providers, clinicians, family members, and the student him- or herself work together to develop a coordinated plan for service delivery and strategize about how best to meet the student’s social, emotional, physical, and educational needs. Approximately six percent of children and youth ages 5 to 20 live with some type of disability.2 While their needs and postsecondary goals may vary, each young person needs individualized support and guidance in planning for life beyond high school.

Recognizing the importance of maintaining a continuum of services beyond high school and into adulthood, federal disability legislation requires the inclusion of transition planning in each child’s IEP. By the time a student reaches the age of 16 (if not before), the IEP must include measurable postsecondary goals and identify appropriate transition services. According to the accompanying regulations for IDEA 2004, “transition services” means

a coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability that: (a) is designed to be within a results-oriented process that is focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child with a disability to facilitate the child’s movement from school to post-school activities, including postsecondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, and community participation; (b) is based on the individual child’s needs, taking into account the child’s strengths, preferences, and interests; and (c) includes instruction, related services, community experiences, the development of employment and other post-school adult living objectives, and, if appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills and functional vocational evaluation.3

Transition services should stem from the individual youth’s needs and strengths, ensuring that planning takes into account his or her interests, preferences, and desires for the future.

1Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004
2 U.S. Census Bureau, 2006
320 U.S.C. 1401(34) and 34 CFR §300.43(a)